My destination, Eureka Springs, an authentic nineteenth-century resort tucked away in the Ozarks, is 992 miles away. While on my way and passing through the Smokies, it was 37 degrees and sleeting. The next afternoon in Arkansas, it was 92 and bright. Quite a contrast, and it set the tone for the next few days.
In Atlanta, visiting with Michael Orr, Aprilia's marketing czar, I find him to be very accommodating and downright hospitable. Not only did he buy lunch, he also took care of all the details before I left that afternoon on Aprilia's touring road rocket, the Futura, a bike that handles traffic and curves with equal amounts of nimbleness and performance. It is definitely a SPORT-touring machine.
Upon my arrival in Eureka Springs, while checking into the Edelweiss Inn managed by Cindy and Bryan Sumpter, I quickly learned what kind of hosts they are. Bryan rides, too, and right off the bat he assures me all I have to do is call (from anywhere) if I have any problems. He'll bring his trailer and pick me up - now that's hospitality.
Scheduled as my longest day (close to 400 miles) and expected to be a real roller coaster: I was not disappointed. The day started out a nice 64 degrees but soon got hotter. The route went the same way. Down 23 and onto 62 east, I headed past Berryville and into Green Forest, turning left onto 311, a residential street that had me thinking, "Where's the fun in this?" And then I passed the last house and started cutting left, right, left and right. It was on!
The theme was set: "shift, lean, lean the other way, repeat..." and it turned out to be a day of aggressive riding on roads that practically demand it. The asphalt, "pitch and chip," is a really assertive substrate that provides serious traction, but it does take its toll on tires.
Taking 311 into Missouri, where things settle down, I dead-end on 21 and turn north to pick up 21/86 over to Ridgedale, MO, and head south on 65. Crossing back into Arkansas, I've jumped on the carnival ride once more. It's as if the roads know that you've just had a rest and now its time to rip with excitement again.
One hazard has become apparent - the dreaded box turtle. The previous week, they had 10 inches of rain and a lot of small animals were displaced. To rephrase an old joke "Why did the turtle cross the road?" the answer is now known: "To go home." I spotted quite a few of them trudging along, so it was a day of "turtle-dodge" and I even played a round or two of "turtle-polo," slowing down to gently boot them into the grass.
I slide south across 14 over to north 281 for a secluded pretzel detour - no salt added. This little deviation is worth the time it takes to run it and, depending on your mood, it can be a slow cruise or it can be fast. Let's just say that it didn't cost me a lot of time! Back on 14, I shoot down through the town of Yellville and make a refueling stop further along in Harriett, at Crockett's. I'm ready for a little nourishment and a nice break as it's now in the high 80s.
I elect to take, yet again, another detour. I leave 14 and take 341 up into the Ozark National Forest. What beautiful countryside. I dead-end and take 201 east over to 5, just playing along the park borders. I ride this back to 14 west, really enjoying the landscape, and then take a jaunt south on 87 through an area that adventuresome isolationists will love. Down to 66, I hang a hard right and work my way over through Alco, turning onto 74. This portion is an up and down zigzag and looks freshly surfaced. It grips like a pair of channel-locks and I take advantage of it, motoring past Landis to 27. It's a short jog to 65 for the long and winding run towards Eureka Springs.
I ride through towns with population signs that read like golf scores (88, 92, 69), some that reflect my rounds (103 and 128), and I notice that not one of the people I pass, whether out in a field or standing at a mailbox, waves. This is very different from the way it is back home in the Carolinas. There, everyone waves - so much so, that you begin to think maybe you're related. It's not that they're unfriendly in these parts; they just don't wave. It strikes me as interesting.
After fuel and a stretch in St. Joe, I then cut and weave my way up 65/412. I turn north onto 62 for the ride home, and I am again amazed that even the road into Eureka Springs is so serpentine - there are no straight, flat roads around. This Ozark area offers only fun twisting, shifting, leaning roads.
Day one ends after 391 miles of hang-on riding. I'm hungry because I only snacked when fueling, so I head over to Sparky's. An eclectic bar & grill with great service, their black-bean burger is the perfect end to a perfect day.